In April of 2005, Emily Trepacz, 4, traveled to Los Chiles, Costa Rica with her parents and saw something she would never forget. The Trepacz family was there to visit Daniella, the 4-year-old girl they had been sponsoring since 2003. When Daniella took them into her schoolhouse to sing a song for them, Emily and her parents were stunned at the conditions.
"It wasn't like this school at all — it didn't have nice things," said Emily, who is currently a second grade student at Forestville Elementary School in Great Falls. "They had a tree that was the kindergarten class, they had tin roofs and they sat down on ordinary ground, so when it was raining — just forget about it."
After the Trepacz family left Daniella to return home, Emily was determined to help her pen pal.
"On the bus ride back to San Jose, Emily said 'Mom, we gotta do something about this school,'" said Emily's mother Dawn Trepacz.
THIS YEAR, Emily got to see her vision come to life after her mother approached the Forestville Parent Teacher Association about getting the students involved in a "Project Schoolhouse" fund-raiser. Last year the PTA had organized a two-week coin drive to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, so the school was more than happy to run another coin drive for Daniella's school in Costa Rica.
"My project is about building their school into a better place like this school," said Emily. "I felt really bad for them because they had no toys and no playground — it's nothing like this school."
Emily's project has three goals — to raise $8500 for construction of a kindergarten classroom, and to raise another $12,500 to outfit the primary classroom area of the school and build a cafeteria section. Emily and her family will continue to try to raise money for Project Schoolhouse throughout the year. In March of 2007, Emily will return to Costa Rica with her parents to visit Daniella at her school and share the fund-raising results with the students there. Dawn Trepacz plans to film the visit and show the video to the Forestville students upon their return.
"So we have more things to do over the rest of the year, and we hope to have the kindergarten classroom finished by then," said Dawn Trepacz.
FOR THE LAST two weeks, empty water jugs were placed in the Forestville cafeteria — one earmarked for each grade. Students were encouraged to bring in coins and cash for donation, with the incentive of a pizza party for the grade that contributed the most at the end of two weeks. By the end of the first week, the school had already raised $3,100, with the first grade in the lead at $916.92 in donations. In addition, the school was able to raise almost $900 at a bake sale on Back to School Night.
"It's been great — the kids are really into it," said Michelle Buller, community outreach committee co-chair for the Forestville PTA. "Part of this is to raise awareness, as well as to raise money, and the kids just get so excited … they love the competition and it's really cute that the first grade is winning because they are just so psyched about it."
On Friday, Oct. 6, members of the PTA collected all of the donations and tallied them up using the coin machine at the Great Falls Village Center Chevy Chase bank.
"Chevy Chase has been great," said Dawn Trepacz. "They are letting us camp out in their lobby to count the money."
To help promote the project at Forestville, Emily Trepacz went on "Forestville T.V." several times to tell students about Daniella and her school — and even brought in a piece of corrugated tin to show everyone the material used to construct Daniella's classroom. Emily was pleased to be on "Forestville T.V." as it is usually an honor reserved only for sixth grade students. She has also been thrilled by the enthusiastic response of her classmates.
"They have really been into it, and I can tell that they are listening to me because they bring in money — someone brought in $100 — and by the posters they put up in the school," said Emily.